The Final Breakdown

The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - A final look at tonight's matchup against Georgia Tech.

WHAT: No. 8 Clemson vs. Georgia Tech
WHERE: Memorial Stadium - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 14 (7:31 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 10
TV: ESPN

GEORGIA TECH RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
You know the drill. And, by now, you probably hate it. It's triple-option time.

Too bad Paul Johnson doesn't care what you think, because Georgia Tech is going to run the ball and take its sweet time doing so.


Quarterback Vad Lee has rushed 138 times for 394 yards with six touchdowns this season. (Getty Images)
Quarterback Vad Lee has rushed 138 times for 394 yards with six touchdowns this season. His backup, Justin Thomas, could also see the field this week. He's rushed for 182 yards and two scores.

The B-backs could be the strength of the offense. David Sims and Zach Laskey have combined for 1,037 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing. We'll see both of them on Thursday. Which of the two has the hot hand could decide which on we see more.

Grady Jarrett, D.J. Reader and the rest of the Clemson defensive tackles are in for quite a test with these guys. The battle along the interior could be the best matchup of the night.

Robert Godhigh is the top A-back on the roster. He's got 473 yards and three touchdowns this season.

As a team, Georgia Tech is fifth in the country in rushing with 311.3 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets have scored three or more rushing touchdowns in all but three games of their nine games this season [Duke, Virginia Tech, BYU].

Their only sub-200-yard game was against BYU. The next lowest was the 237-yard output against BYU.

Yep, Georgia Tech still runs that triple-option pretty well. But Clemson's run defense remains on the uptick. The Tigers are 33rd in the country, giving up an average of 140.8 yards per game.

But this is unlike anything they've seen since, well, last year's game against Georgia Tech.

Stephone Anthony, Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian are expected to be the primary linebackers against Georgia Tech, but don't be surprised to see a few others on the field for critical snaps. Tony Steward and B.J. Goodson are expected to get some run on Thursday night.

Since 2010, Clemson hasn't held Georgia Tech under 240 yards rushing. In fact, the lowest rushing total the Tigers have limited the Yellow Jackets to during the Paul Johnson era is 207. That was in 2008, Dabo Swinney's first game as interim head coach.

We suspect Georgia Tech will be well into the 200's with a few chunk plays by the time Thursday night's game is over.

ADVANTAGE:

GEORGIA TECH PASS ATTACK VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Despite rarely throwing the ball during his tenure at Georgia Tech, Johnson's quarterbacks are usually among the most efficient passers in the country. That's not the case this year.

The Yellow Jackets are 10th in the ACC with a 109.1 rating.


Baushad Breeland and the Clemson secondary can't be lulled to sleep by Georgia Tech's run game. (Roy Philpott)
If Lee was qualified, his 132.3 rating would be eighth in the ACC. He's completed 52 of 114 passes for 1,005 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Thomas is 6 of 12 for 68 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

DeAndre Smelter is the top wide receiver. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior is a former baseball player, playing his first season of college football. He's caught 19 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns.

The only others that are in double-digits in receptions are Godhigh [12] and Darren Waller [11].

For Georgia Tech, Pass plays are like trick plays, trick plays that go for big gains. The Yellow Jackets average 18.2 yards per completion. And all it takes for a big play through the air is just one undisciplined decision in the secondary.

At safety for Clemson are Robert Smith and Travis Blanks. It's rare when either of the two are caught making mental mistakes. They're two of the smartest players on the entire roster, so there shouldn't be too many gaffs by the safeties.

At cornerback, Bashaud Breeland has been playing at an All-ACC level this season. Darius Robinson has been dependable. Same goes for Martin Jenkins. Plus, Garry Peters will be back after sitting out the last three games with a foot injury.

The cornerbacks are all veteran players with experience against this offense. So, they, too, shouldn't have many issues with staying disciplined.

And even though Vic Beasley may not have too many opportunities to chase down the quarterback, Clemson will get the nod here.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. GEORGIA TECH FRONT SEVEN
Over the course of the last 12 months, Georgia Tech has gone from a middle-of-the-road run defense to one of the nation's best. In 2012, the Yellow Jackets were 44th in the country against the run, allowing an average of 144.2 yards. This season, they're giving up 103.5. That's 10th best.


The Tigers are led in rushing by Roderick McDowell, who's rushed for 677 yards and three touchdowns. (Getty Images)
The addition of Ted Roof has paid big-time dividends. The defensive coordinator/linebackers coaches has gotten strong play out of his linebacker corps of Jabari Hunt-Days, Quayshawn Nealy and Brandon Watts.

Hunt-Days, who starts in the middle, is fourth on the team with 36 tackles. Nealy, the weak-side starter, is third with 37. From the strong-side, Watts is second with 47.

Safety Jemea Thomas is a strong run supporter from the secondary. He leads the team with 58 tackles. Earlier this week, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris likened him to Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. Like Joyner, Thomas is a versatile piece. He's played cornerback, safety and nickel this season, and played them all at a high level.

They'll challenge a Clemson run game that's been pretty inconsistent this season. The Tigers are led by Roderick McDowell, who's rushed for 677 yards and three touchdowns. His primary backup, Zac Brooks, has 234 yards and a pair of scores. But he's been dealing with a shoulder injury suffered against Maryland.

While Brooks is expected to play, reserve C.J. Davidson [knee] is doubtful after going down against Virginia. Davidson, who was used as a goal line back against the Cavs, was looking at an expanded role for the final stretch of the season.

Whoever is rushing the ball for Clemson against Georgia Tech on Thursday night will have to do so through some tight creases. Since giving up 227 yards to Miami, the Yellow Jackets have given up 189 to BYU, 75 to Syracuse, 68 to Virginia and -5 to Pittsburgh.

Look for Clemson's total to fall somewhere between BYU's and Syracuse's.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. GEORGIA TECH SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
A quick start from Tajh Boyd & Co. would do wonders for this game. An early lead will put the pressure on Johnson's offense. Plus, the number of Clemson possessions will be limited on Thursday night.


Nationally, Georgia Tech is 53rd against the pass, giving up an average of 226.1 yards. (Getty Images)
This season, quarterbacks have performed at every end of the spectrum while facing Georgia Tech.

Miami and Virginia had the biggest outings against the Yellow Jackets. The Canes put up 324 yards and three scores through the air. The Cavs had 376 yards and two touchdowns.

North Carolina, Virginia Tech, BYU and Pitt all threw for over 215 yards against Georgia Tech. Between those five; BYU had the highest total [244].

The yardage for Elon, Duke and Syracuse was 164, 122 and 133, respectively.

Nationally, Georgia Tech is 53rd against the pass, giving up an average of 226.1 yards. The efficiency rating of 125.49 is 64th.

Those mediocre numbers will take a hit after Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant get done with them.

Aside from Jeremiah Attaochu, Boyd shouldn't have much to worry about in the way of a pass rush. Attaochu, who's playing with his hand on the ground at defensive end, has six of Georgia Tech's 19 sacks.

ADVANTAGE:


Chandler Catanzaro is 9 of 10 in field goals with a long of 49 this season. (Roy Philpott)
SPECIAL TEAMS
Clemson has the edge in place-kicking. Chandler Catanzaro is 9 of 10 in field goals with a long of 49 while Georgia Tech's Harrison Butker is 5 of 8 with a long of 49.

Yellow Jacket punter Sean Poole is pretty irrelevant. He's only punted 29 times this season. Why so low? Because Johnson is a go-for-it-on-fourth-down-kind-of-guy, that's why.

Georgia Tech does have some explosive options in the return game. Smelter is averaging 15.4 yards per punt return. Lynn Griffin is averaging 30.5 yards per kick return while Jamal Golden has 27.8. As a team, the Yellow Jackets average 24.5 per kick return.

Clemson has the edge in kicking the ball. Georgia Tech has the edge in the return game. Smells like a push.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 36 Georgia Tech 22

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